“They don’t know that,” I said. “No one has been here, no one knows what happened last night. As far as anyone can tell, I entered the Pit and never came out again. They probably think you killed me.”
Zeke flinched. It was small, barely noticeable since he was turned away from me, but I saw it.
Sliding forward, I reached out and put a hand on his back.
“I’m still here,” I said softly. “We beat Sarren’s sick little game, and he has no hold on you anymore.”
I hope. I desperately hoped the compulsion was broken and Zeke was truly free. But if not, if Zeke fell under Sarren’s control again, then I would snap him out of it one more time. And again, and again. As often as I had to, until Sarren was dead.
“Allie.” Zeke bowed his head, and his shoulders trembled.
I felt him take a deep breath, as if to compose himself, a reflex left over from his time as a human. “I know we have to stop Sarren,” he continued, his voice a little stronger. “I know that’s the most important thing now, that putting an end to his plans takes precedence over everything else, even my own feelings. I know that, and I’m with you. Don’t worry about that part.” He shivered again, though his voice remained calm.
“I’ll go with you to Eden, and I don’t intend to stop fighting until I know Sarren is dead. But after that, after I’m sure everyone is safe and Sarren is gone…” Zeke paused, now uncertain. “I…I don’t know if I can do this. If I even want to try.” He hesitated again, then in a near whisper, added, “You might have to…”
“Stop it,” I growled at him. “You’ve asked me this before, and it nearly killed me to say yes. I won’t let you become a monster. I’ll fight it with you every step of the way. But I will not help you destroy yourself.”
“I never wanted this,” Zeke said harshly, clenching his fists.
“I would’ve rather died, and Sarren knew that. His evil is still inside me. What if it turns on you? What if I can’t help being more like Sarren than like you and Kanin?”
Having Sarren for a sire was something I couldn’t even imagine, and it made me feel cold inside. “It doesn’t work like that, Zeke,” I told him, praying I was right. “And even if that was the case, you still have the choice to fight it. To not be like him.”
“And if I’m not strong enough?”
“I don’t believe that for a second.”
He shook his head. “You have more faith in me than I do, vampire girl,” he murmured, almost to himself. “I hope you don’t come to regret it.”
The shout came from below, rough and guttural. It was followed by another voice, both sounding rather desperate.
Zeke raised his head at the sound, and his eyes gleamed. Hunger rippled across his features, and he shook himself before breaking away and rising to his feet.
“Raiders,” he muttered. “They probably saw you come in last night and are wondering which one of us is dead.”
As he said this, there was a burst of gunfire outside, making both of us jerk up. Almost instinctively, I reached out with my blood tie and felt two pulses, very close, coming from the same direction as the shots.
“Kanin,” I whispered. “Jackal. What are they doing here?
They were supposed to wait for us outside the city.”
“Looks like they came back for you,” Zeke said. Reaching to his back holster, he took out his pistol and checked the clip with a frown. “Three bullets left,” he muttered. “And I don’t have my blade. Do you?”
I shook my head. My katana was on the first floor where I’d dropped it, frantic to stop Zeke from killing himself. I still had Kanin’s dagger, but I really wanted my sword. Zeke nodded grimly, and holstered the gun again.
“Nothing for it, then. Let’s go.”
He ignored me and swept across the room. I followed him out the door into an open corridor where the entire wall had fallen away, showing the yawning crater several floors down.
I hurried forward just as Zeke dropped from the edge of the balcony into the pit below. Frantic voices drifted up from the bottom, and I walked silently to the edge, gazing down.
“Boss!” Almost directly below, two large, brutish men suddenly turned, guns in hand, and rushed toward Zeke. I followed them, unseen, from above. “Hey, we got a situation,”
one said, not seeming to notice the way Zeke was advancing on him, eyes hard. “You need to get out there, right now.”
There was another burst of gunfire, closer this time, followed by a desperate yell. The raiders flinched and glanced back toward the walls.
“The vamps are here, boss,” the second human gasped.
“The little bitch’s friends are coming. Our old king. We tried holding them off, but they got into the city somehow and are on their way right now—”
He didn’t get any further. Zeke pounced on him with a snarl, driving him into the floor with a splash and a terrified shriek. The other yelled and raised his gun, but I dropped from the balcony and hit him from behind, burying my fangs in his throat. Hot blood filled my mouth, soothing and wonderful. There was no guilt this time. I kept drinking until there was nothing left, until the body was a limp sack of meat and bones, drained and lifeless.
Letting the corpse slump to the water, I looked around for Zeke.
He rose slowly, fangs out, watching his own raider’s body sink below the water’s surface and disappear. I kept a close eye on his face, waiting for the disgust and loathing to hit, for the horror of what he’d done to sink in, but there was nothing. His expression remained blank, his eyes flat, and my stomach twisted.
Shots boomed close by. I jerked, then searched frantically for my weapon, trying to spot the shine of steel beneath the water. I found my katana right where I’d left it, dropped when Zeke had kicked me in the chest. The fabric around the hilt was soaked through, but it seemed perfectly fine otherwise.
I flicked water off the blade before sheathing it again. Zeke’s machete lay a few yards away, glimmering in the spot where he’d knelt and waited for me to end his life. He sloshed over to pick up the weapon before turning to me, his expression still blank and cold.
We started across the pit but had taken only a few steps when gunfire boomed along the balcony seats above us, flaring white, and a second later, a familiar roar shook the darkness. Pistol fire barked, fast and frantic. A scream, and then the scent of blood filled the air a moment before a body dropped from the balcony and hit the water with a splash. I tried not to notice that its head was missing as a tall, bloody figure stepped out of the shadows to the edge of the balcony and smirked down at us.